National Transportation Safety Board
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent U.S. government investigative agency
Independent agencies of the United States government
Independent agencies of the United States federal government are those agencies that exist outside of the federal executive departments...

 responsible for civil transportation accident investigation. In this role, the NTSB investigates and reports on aviation accidents and incidents
Aviation accidents and incidents
An aviation accident is defined in the Convention on International Civil Aviation Annex 13 as an occurrence associated with the operation of an aircraft which takes place between the time any person boards the aircraft with the intention of flight and all such persons have disembarked, in which a...

, certain types of highway crashes
Car accident
A traffic collision, also known as a traffic accident, motor vehicle collision, motor vehicle accident, car accident, automobile accident, Road Traffic Collision or car crash, occurs when a vehicle collides with another vehicle, pedestrian, animal, road debris, or other stationary obstruction,...

, ship and marine accidents
Ship transport
Ship transport is watercraft carrying people or goods . Sea transport has been the largest carrier of freight throughout recorded history. Although the importance of sea travel for passengers has decreased due to aviation, it is effective for short trips and pleasure cruises...

, pipeline incidents
Pipeline transport
Pipeline transport is the transportation of goods through a pipe. Most commonly, liquids and gases are sent, but pneumatic tubes that transport solid capsules using compressed air are also used....

 and railroad
Rail transport
Rail transport is a means of conveyance of passengers and goods by way of wheeled vehicles running on rail tracks. In contrast to road transport, where vehicles merely run on a prepared surface, rail vehicles are also directionally guided by the tracks they run on...

 accidents. When requested, the NTSB will assist the military
A military is an organization authorized by its greater society to use lethal force, usually including use of weapons, in defending its country by combating actual or perceived threats. The military may have additional functions of use to its greater society, such as advancing a political agenda e.g...

 with accident investigation. The NTSB is also in charge of investigating cases of hazardous materials releases that occur during transportation. Deborah Hersman was appointed as NTSB Chairman in July 2009. Christopher A. Hart was designated Vice Chairman on August 18, 2009 for a two-year term. The agency is based in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

  It has nine regional offices around the country and runs a training center in Ashburn, Virginia.


The NTSB was established in 1967 as the federal government's primary accident investigation agency for all modes of transportation – aviation, highway, rail, marine and pipeline. The core of the new agency was composed of the Civil Aeronautics Board's Bureau of Safety (The CAB retained its economic regulation of the airline industry until it was closed on December 31, 1984 due to the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978). Originally established with strong ties to the Department of Transportation
United States Department of Transportation
The United States Department of Transportation is a federal Cabinet department of the United States government concerned with transportation. It was established by an act of Congress on October 15, 1966, and began operation on April 1, 1967...

, these ties were later severed under the Independent Safety Board Act of 1975. The organization receives its authority from Chapter 11, Title 49 of the United States Code
United States Code
The Code of Laws of the United States of America is a compilation and codification of the general and permanent federal laws of the United States...

. It has investigated over 140,000 aviation incidents since its establishment.


The board has five members nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate for five year terms, one of whom is nominated the Chairman by the President and then approved by the Senate
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

 for a fixed 2-year term. Another member is designated as vice chairman and becomes acting chairman when there is no formal chairman.

No more than three of the five members can be from the same political party.

Organization within the Board is composed of separate sub-offices for highway safety, maritime safety, aviation safety, railroad, pipeline, and hazardous materials investigations, research and engineering, communications, and administrative law judges. These sub-offices report to the Office of the Managing Director.


The NTSB is normally the lead organization in the investigation of a transportation accident within its sphere. However, this power can be surrendered to other organizations if the Attorney General
United States Attorney General
The United States Attorney General is the head of the United States Department of Justice concerned with legal affairs and is the chief law enforcement officer of the United States government. The attorney general is considered to be the chief lawyer of the U.S. government...

 declares the case to be linked to an intentional criminal act, although the NTSB would still provide technical support in such investigations. This occurred during the investigation of the September 11, 2001, attacks when the Department of Justice
United States Department of Justice
The United States Department of Justice , is the United States federal executive department responsible for the enforcement of the law and administration of justice, equivalent to the justice or interior ministries of other countries.The Department is led by the Attorney General, who is nominated...

 took over the investigation.

An investigation of a major accident within the United States typically starts with the creation of a "go team", composed of specialists in fields relating to the occurrence. This is followed by the designation of other organizations or corporations as parties to the investigation. The Board may then choose to hold public hearings on the issue. Ultimately, it will publish a final report and may issue safety recommendations. The Board has no legal authority to implement, or impose, its recommendations. That burden falls upon regulators at either the federal or state level or individual transportation companies.

The NTSB has primacy in investigating every civil aviation accident in the United States (The Federal Aviation Administration is always a party to these investigations, but the NTSB is the investigating agency). For certain accidents, due to resource limitations, the Board will ask the FAA to collect the factual information at the scene of the accident; the NTSB bases its report on that information.

The NTSB may assist in incident or accident investigations occurring outside the United States under certain circumstances. These may include:
  • accidents or incidents involving American-registered or American-owned aircraft (other than an aircraft operated by the Armed Forces or by an intelligence agency of the United States) or aircraft with U.S. manufactured components in foreign air space.

The NTSB will also on occasion provide technical and other advice to transportation investigative boards in countries that do not have the equipment or specialized technicians available to undertake all aspects of a complex investigation.

The NTSB's authority to investigate other transportation accidents varies by mode. For example, it investigates highway accidents "in cooperation with the States." For marine investigations, jurisdiction between the NTSB and he Coast Guard is prescribed in a detailed Memorandum of Understanding between the two agencies. For those railroad and pipeline accidents it chooses to investigate, it has primacy.

A little-known responsibility of the NTSB is that it serves as a court of appeals for airmen, mechanics, certificated aviation-related companies and mariners who have their licenses suspended or revoked by the federal government. The Board's determinations may be appealed to the federal court system by the losing party, whether it is the individual or company, on the one hand, or the FAA or the Coast Guard, on the other.

The Safety Board maintains a training academy in Ashburn, Virginia, where it conducts courses for its employees and professionals in other government agencies, foreign governments or private companies, in areas such as general accident investigation, specific elements of investigations like survival factors or human performance, or related matters like family affairs or media relations. The facility houses for training purposes the reconstruction of more than 90 feet of the TWA flight 800 Boeing 747, which was recovered from the Atlantic Ocean after it crashed on July 17, 1996 following a fuel tank explosion.


The Board's most important product is the safety recommendation. The NTSB has issued about 13,000 safety recommendations in its history, the vast majority of which have been adopted in whole or in part by the entities to which they were directed.

Among transportation safety improvements brought about or inspired by NTSB recommendations:

AVIATION: Mid-air collision avoidance technology, ground proximity warning systems, smoke detectors in lavatories, floor level escape lighting and fuel tank inerting.

HIGHWAY: Graduated drivers license laws for young drivers, age-21 drinking laws, smart airbag technology, rear high-mounted brake lights, commercial drivers licenses, improved school bus construction standards.

RAIL: Positive train control (anti-collision technology), improved emergency exits for passenger rail cars, shelf-couplers for hazardous material rail cars.

MARINE: Recreational boating safety, improved fire safety on cruise ships, lifesaving devices on fishing vessels.

PIPELINE: Excavation damage protection, pipe corrosion protection, remote shutoff valves.

MULTI-MODAL: Alcohol and drug testing in all modes of transportation.

Since 1990, the NTSB has maintained a Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements, in which it highlights those recommendations that would provide the most significant -- and sometimes immediate -- benefit to the traveling public. The Board conducts a press conference every year to announce changes to that list.

Significant investigations conducted by the NTSB in all modes of transportation in recent years include the collapse of the I-35 highway bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota; the collision between two transit trains in Washington, D.C.; the pipeline explosion that destroyed much of a neighborhood in San Bruno, California; the sinking of an amphibious vessel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and the crash of a regional airliner near Buffalo, New York.

In addition, the NTSB has assisted the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in its investigations of both the Challenger and the Columbia space shuttle disasters, assisted the Department of Justice during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack investigations, and assisted the U.S. military in its investigation of the aircraft that crashed in the former Yugoslavia that took the lives of more than 30 Americans, including Commerce Secretary Ron Brown.

See also

  • Air safety
    Air safety
    Air safety is a term encompassing the theory, investigation and categorization of flight failures, and the prevention of such failures through regulation, education and training. It can also be applied in the context of campaigns that inform the public as to the safety of air travel.-United...

  • Aviation accidents and incidents
    Aviation accidents and incidents
    An aviation accident is defined in the Convention on International Civil Aviation Annex 13 as an occurrence associated with the operation of an aircraft which takes place between the time any person boards the aircraft with the intention of flight and all such persons have disembarked, in which a...

  • Civil Aeronautics Board
  • Federal Aviation Administration
    Federal Aviation Administration
    The Federal Aviation Administration is the national aviation authority of the United States. An agency of the United States Department of Transportation, it has authority to regulate and oversee all aspects of civil aviation in the U.S...

  • List of pipeline accidents
  • School bus safety
  • U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board
    U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board
    The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, also known as the Chemical Safety Board or CSB, is an independent U.S. federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the agency's board members are appointed by the president and...

  • Vehicle inspection in the United States
    Vehicle inspection in the United States
    In the United States, vehicle safety inspection and emissions inspection are governed by each state individually. 17 states have a periodic safety inspection program, while Maryland and Alabama require a safety inspection prior to registration or transfer of ownership only...

  • Atomic Train
    Atomic Train
    Atomic Train is a 1999 action-thriller film about an accidental nuclear explosion destroying the city of Denver. It was originally broadcast on NBC as a two-part miniseries.-Cast:*Rob Lowe as John Seger*Kristin Davis as Megan Seger...

    a 1999 Action movie that prominently features the fictional NTSB employee John Seger (Rob Lowe
    Rob Lowe
    Robert Hepler "Rob" Lowe is an American actor. Lowe came to prominence after appearing in films such as The Outsiders, Oxford Blues, About Last Night..., St. Elmo's Fire, and Wayne's World. On television, Lowe is known for his role as Sam Seaborn on The West Wing and his role as Senator Robert...

    ) about a runaway train with a nuclear payload speeding to Denver.

External links

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